What Is a Crime Against Public Morality?


Public moral crimes are also known as crimes of moral turpitude and typically are thought of as "vice" crimes that raise questions about the perpetrator's personal character and morality. Moral crimes are defined by state law and vary among states. Most states consider sexual deviancy to be a public moral crime. Other types of offenses may include perjury and other honesty-based crimes. Defendants convicted of public moral crimes often have difficulty obtaining jobs and can be fired from a job for committing a moral crime.

Sexual Crimes

  • Many states categorize sex-based offenses as crimes against morality. Prostitution and solicitation of a prostitute are found in most morality codes. Obscenity and public lewdness also fall within crimes against morality. Exposure of genitals or breasts can result in a public lewdness conviction. Very serious crimes involving child pornography and exposure of pornography to minors are usually public morality crimes. Some states include rape and sexual assault within the public morality statutes while other states categorize those crimes under the "crimes against the person" section of the criminal code. Some states still retain older laws forbidding adultery, oral sex and unnatural sexual intercourse.

Gambling Offenses

  • Another common crime considered a crime against public morality involves gambling offenses. Using public funds or taxpayer dollars for gambling purposes is a crime against public morality in most states. Minors may not gamble and many states explicitly prohibit public advertising of gambling establishments. Crimes involving the lottery are commonly categorized as morality crimes as well.

Non-Violent Offenses

  • It is a public crime to incite a riot or disturb the peace. Most states define this type of conduct as intentionally depriving another of a legal right, hindering law enforcement in keeping the peace or intentionally disturbing peaceful assembly. Intentionally harming the constitutionally protected rights of others to picket, demonstrate, exercise free speech or express a position is also a crime against public morality, although most of these types of crimes carry a misdemeanor penalty.

Miscellaneous Morality Crimes

  • Because every state legislature is free to define morality crimes as it sees fit, state codes contain varied types of crimes. Many Southern states criminalize adultery and other older notions of moral turpitude. In some states, disturbing a funeral proceeding or a religious ceremony are crimes against morality, as are public intoxication and loitering. Most states classify cruelty to animals and animal abuse as morality crimes.


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